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Ut flos in septis secretus nascitur hortis,
show'rs shoot high'r, It many youths, and many maids desire; The same, when cropt by cruel hand, is wi-
therd, No youths at all, no maidens have desir'd. - It was not thus, you remember, that Ariosto and Pope have translated these fine verses. But to return to our purpose :
To this consideration of the Age of a writer, you may add, if you please, that of his EduÇATION. Though it might not, in general, be the fashion to affect learning, the habits acquired by a particular writer might dispose him to do so.
What was less esteemed by the
enthusiasts of Milton's time (of which however he himself was one of the greatest) than prophane or indeed any kind of learning? Yet we, who know that his youth was spent in the study of the best writers in every language, want but little evidence to convince us that his great genius did not disdain to stoop to imitation. You assent, I dare say, to Dryden's compliment, though it be an invidious one, “ That no man has so copiously translated “ Homer's Grecisms, and the Latin elegancies “ of Virgil.” Nay, don't you remember, the other day, that we were half of a mind to give him up for a shameless plagiary, chiefly because we were sure he had been a great reader.
But no good writer, it will be said, has flourished out of a learned age, or at least without some tincture of learning. It may
be so. Yet every writer is not disposed to make the most of these advantages. What if we pay some regard then to the CHARACTER of the writer? A poet, enamoured of himself, and who sets up for a great inventive genius, thinks much to profit by the sense of his predecessors, and even when he steals, takes care to dissemble his thefts, and to conceal them as much as possible. You know I have instanced in such a poet in Sir William D'Avenant. In detecting the imitations of such a writer, one must then proceed with some caution. But what if our concern be with one, whose modesty leads him to revere the sense and even the expression of approved authors, whose taste enables him to select the finest passages in their works, and whose judgment determines him to make a free use of them? Suppose we know all this from common fame, and even from his own confession; would you scruple to call that an imitation in him, which in the other might have passed for resemblance only?
As the character is amiable, you will be pleased to hear me own, there are many modern poets to whom it belongs. Perhaps, the first that occurred to my thoughts was Mr. Addison. But the observation holds of others, and of one, in particular, very much his superior in true genius. I know not whether you agree with me, that the famous line in the Essay on Man;
6 An honest man's the noblest work of God, is taken from Plato's, Πάντων ιερώτατόν έσιν άνθρωπος και αγαθός. But I am sure you will that the still more famous lines, which shallow men repeat without understanding,
* For modes of Faith let graceless zealots fight, “ His, can't be wrong whose life is in the
right:" are but copied, though with vast improvement in the force and turn of expression, from the excellent and, let it be 'no disparagement to him to say, from the orthodox Mr. Cowley. The poet is speaking of his friend CRASHAW. “ His Faith perhaps in some nice tenets might “ Be wrong; his life, I'm sure, was in the
right.” Mr. Pope, wlio found himself in the same circumstances with Crashaw, and had suffered no doubt from the like uncharitable constructions of graceless zeal, was very naturally tempted to adopt this candid sentiment, and to give it the further heightening of his own spirited expression.
Let us see then how far we are got in this inquiry. We may say of the old Latin poets, that they all came out of the Greek schools. It is as true of the moderns in this part of the world, that they, in general, have had their breeding in both the Greek and Latin. But when the question is of any particular writer, how far and in what instances you may presume
on his being a professed imitator, much will depend on the certain knowledge you have of his Age, Education, and Character. When all these circumstances meet in one inan, as they have done in others, but in none perhaps so eminently as in B. Jonson, wherever you find an acknowledged likeness, you will do him no injustice to call it imitation.
Yet all this, you say, comes very much short of what you fequire of me. You want me to specify those peculiar considerations, and even to reduce them into rule, from which one may be authorised in any instance to pronounce of imitations. It is not enough, you pretend, to say of
any passage in a celebrated poet, that it most probably was taken from some other. In your extreme jealousy for the credit of your order, you call upon me to shew the distinct marks which convict him of this commerce.
In a word, You require me to turn to the poets; to gather a number of those
I call Imitations; and to point to the circumstances in each that prove them to be so. I attend you with pleasure in this amusing search. It is not material, I suppose, that we observe any strict method in our ramblinge. And yet we will not wholly neglect it.